Posts Tagged With: books

The Magicians

My least favorite thing in the world is when an interesting concept is done poorly, and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians was one of those books.

The premise itself sounds great: kid is obsessed with a collection of fantasy books about a magical land.  He grows up and finds out magic is real after being invited to a school to learn the skill, but this magic land (Fillory) is still considered a fantasy.  Until one day…it’s not.  He and his friends actually get there.

Unfortunately, the story goes wrong right from the beginning.  Quentin Coldwater, the main character and third-person narrator, ruins it.  The first line of the description on the back states that he is “brilliant but miserable,” but he’s also a dick.  He objectifies every woman he sees.  He plays the victim even when he’s in the wrong, and he thinks he’s above everyone else.  As the main character, he’s annoying, but since the book is told from his perspective we get every gross or self-righteous thought that flows through his head.

The other problem with the book is its timeline.  It opens with him finishing high school and preparing for college.  In 400 pages, it spans somewhere between seven and eight years.  To do so, it glosses over those years to get as much time into the story as possible.  Random story elements will pop up, go unmentioned for hundreds of pages, and then come back when you’ve already forgotten about them.  Other story elements are never relevant and put in solely for shock value: when Quentin and Alice have fox sex, for instance.  The whole thing feels disjointed and vague.

I only kept reading it because someone I love very much bought it for me because she wanted me to watch the TV show.  I imagine, in that format, it’s much better.  You can’t be vague on-screen, and it is more third-person omniscient than third-person limited so I won’t have to deal with Quentin’s internal dialogue.  Because of that, I’ll probably try an episode or two.  But I wouldn’t recommend the book.

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The Geography of You and Me

I hesitate to say The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith is “not your typical YA love story” because, in a lot of ways, it kind of is.  Two teenagers meet by chance and immediately fall in love, more of less.  Their relationship faces certain obstacles which serve to bring them closer to each other.  It’s light and breezy and overall a fun read.

The difference is that the main characters, Lucy and Owen, spend most of the book apart from one another.  The story focuses on their individual stories as they travel and grow.

The traveling is what made me fall in love with this book.  The two started in New York City (*heart eyes*) and then traveled in opposite directions.  Owen went west, ending up in Seattle and Lucy moved to London after traveling through most of Western Europe.  Since the story focused on their individual travels, it showed off their individual development.  When they came together in the end, it felt more like a beginning than an ending.

Instead of the relationship carrying the story and being used to develop the characters, the characters develop on their own and give the relationship an emotional weight that is deeply rooted in the individuals.  Despite lacking a base setting, between the characters and the writing, the reader is never lost.

It’s an easy read, and it leaves the reader with a warm-fuzzy feeling, but it also makes you think about the world as a whole and travel as a life-changing phenomenon.  You become invested in the characters and their development.  The relationship is secondary, only important because it makes them happy, but it’s still well-done.  It’s definitely in my top 10 as far as YA goes…but god, does it make me want to travel again…

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Six of Crows

A couple weeks ago, a friend (who doesn’t usually talk books with me) sent me a Snap.  “Have you read Six of Crows?  I think you’d really like it!”

I made a note of it but, because I wasn’t buying books at the moment and won’t read books I don’t own, I figured it would be a while.  Then a different friend let me choose a Blind Date with a Book for my Christmas present.  Based on a very vague description, I chose Six of Crows.

“I thought you’d end up with that one,” she said.  “I think you’ll really like it.”

A third friend got really excited when I put a picture of the book’s maps on my SnapChat story.  This book came highly recommended…and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

The description for my blind date was “felt like watching Leverage.”  To me, it was a mix between Leverage and Firefly.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a fast-paced heist story.  These characters are on a Mission and every action either brings them closer or further from their goal.  With all the twists and turns, the reader is constantly desperate to find what happens next.  It’s an exciting plot, but the best part is the characters and their found-family dynamic.

You can pick your own favorite…but if it’s not Inej, you’re wrong. The Wraith is the glue that holds the team together.  Everyone loves Inej.

But they’re ALL wonderful.  Kaz is a beautiful train wreck, Wylan and Jesper are adorable, Nina gets to be a different kind of strong than Inej, though just as powerful, and Matthias grows so much and so realistically over the course of the story.

Between the plot and the characters, the story is unique and fascinating, but it’s the writing that elevates it all.  Bardugo describes this sci-fi universe with enough detail that it presents a vivid picture.  The action is described so clearly that it’s like we’re there.  She looks into each character’s mind so clearly that the reader can understand the motivations even they may not recognize yet.

By the end of the book you will be sucked into the action, but also so in love with the characters that you feel like you’ve gone on a trip with your new best friends.  It’s so good that I’m going to actually buy the sequel as soon as Christmas is over.  It’s amazing.

Don’t let the “YA” label fool you.  If you like sci-fi and adventure, this is the story for you.  And who doesn’t like adventure?

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Sword of the Rightful King

Jane Yolen has written over 200 books and Sword of the Rightful King is proof that one should not do that.

I have so many complaints about this one that I’m going to put them in a list so I don’t need to bother with transitions.

  1. The story didn’t truly start for at least a hundred pages.  Even once it had, she stretched certain parts needlessly.  Basically, the book was too long for the story.
  2. The story may have started a hundred pages in, but it didn’t get interesting until two hundred.
  3. Yolen spent most of those pages with Gawaine, who all but disappears as soon as he arrives in Camelot.  His basically used to introduce his mother, Morgause.
  4. Morgause is only one of two women who are developed as characters in this story.  She’s evil.  And the other woman is pretending to be a boy named Gawen and isn’t revealed as a woman until the end (though it is “foreshadowed,” so there’s that I guess).
  5. One of the “hints” that Gawen is actually Guinevere is a scene were she and Lancelot lock eyes.  And then, until the end of the book…NOTHING HAPPENS BETWEEN THEM.  I understand it’s part of the original legend, but why introduce it if it’s not a plot point?
  6. When it is revealed that she’s a woman, Arthur just says, “Oh, you’re actually a girl?  Cool.  Marry me.”  WTF?
  7. There’s a single hint that he cares for her before that.  Otherwise, Yolen keeps telling the reader that Gawen is one of Arthur’s top advisors but doesn’t show her advising him…unless following Merlinnus’s script counts as giving advice.  The same is true of Agravaine: we are constantly told that his loyalties have changed, but it’s never very convincing.
  8. Merlinnus is completely unlikable.  “Unlikable” can work for a character if it works for the story but, come on…it’s Merlin!
  9. In the end, Morgause disappears after one foiled scheme, which seems out of character at best.  She does curse Gawen before she goes, but nothing actually comes of that.  Merlinnus says he’ll “take care of everything,” but it’s so vague, there’s no confirmation he even knows about the curse, let alone how to stop it.  And if he did…why not show us how he does it? Breaking a curse is always interesting!
  10. This isn’t Yolen’s fault, but…THE BLURB!  It’s misleading to start, and then completely spoils the final twist…which would have been the best part if it was set up properly.

After The Bell JarI wanted something light and easy to read.  I expected the trade-off would be that it wasn’t as satisfying, but I had no idea it would be THIS bad.  My advice?  Skip this book and watch Merlin if you need a Camelot fix.  It’s on Netflix and everyone in it is gorgeous, just fyi.

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The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is not for the faint of heart.

This post is going to contain spoilers, and I also feel I should warn you (in case you don’t know what the book is about) that there will be discussion of depression and suicide.  Here goes.

Growing up, I was constantly told (please don’t ask why) that the way you boil a frog is by putting it in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turning up the heat.  By the time it realizes how much trouble it’s in, it’s too late to do anything about it.  I thought about that a lot as I finished The Bell Jar.

It starts as the kind of novel I hate: a meandering journey through somebody’s life that doesn’t seem to be going to any place in particular.  Even then, though, I couldn’t hate it because Plath’s writing was so beautifully and masterfully done.  The book is so well-written that it takes a while to realize the author has you by the throat.

There are signs, even in the book’s bright beginnings, that Esther suffers from depression.  But it doesn’t seem like a “problem” at first.  It’s just a thing about her.  By the time she (and the reader) realize how serious it is, she is already contemplating suicide and is sent to a doctor.

When I read The Virgin Suicidesits perspective was designed to give the reader some distance from the depression itself.  Plath gives us no such relief.  Her first person voice puts you directly into Esther’s head.  The imagery and descriptions give a clear picture of how her mind works and how it changes over time.  By the end, you are horrified both by how easy it seems to slip into madness and how little anyone actually understands or helps her.

Plath grabs you by the throat.  Her words wrap themselves around your head.  I can’t say I loved this book, but I am amazed by what Plath accomplished here and I know it will stay with me.  I’m still shaking over it.  That’s how good she was at her job.  Though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, this book deserves its spot in the Literary Canon and is worth reading…if you can stomach it.

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Road Trip Book Haul

This was meant to be a vlog post, but I don’t actually feel like videoing myself right now.

I probably visited a dozen or more book stores on this trip.  Some were awful, like the one in Cuba, Missouri.  There were a few, like the one in Nashville, Tennessee, that were nice but didn’t have what I wanted.  There were six I found and purchased books from.

The first bookstore of the trip was in Chicago.  Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music was a room and a half in a building so old the elevator was cranked by hand.  There I bought a Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Despite going into almost every bookstore I saw, the next place I found something was Palace Avenue Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There I bought Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. The owner saw that I was buying it and showed me an antique he’d recently acquired with some beautiful pictures of the pyramids.

I FINALLY found If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson at The Writer’s Block Book Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When I made it to The Last Book Store in Los Angeles, I almost didn’t find anything…but then I saw Brain Storm by Don Hahn and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.

Originally, I expected this would actually be my last book store of the trip, but then I got to meet Anna Kendrick and get her book Scrappy Little Nobody at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a bookstore well known for its author events.

And of course, once in New York City, I couldn’t resist going to one of my favorite bookstores: The Strand.  That’s where I found In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  These were all books I’d wanted for a while, so that was extra wonderful.

I’ve stopped going into big chain bookstores because I’ve found half the fun of buying books is where you get them.  So where are your favorite independent bookstores?  And be sure to shop there Small Business Saturday!

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Scrappy Little Nobody

I’ve heard you should never meet your heroes. Those same people would probably tell you not to read their memoirs either.

Fuck that.

It depends on WHO your hero is. Pick the right one, and that shouldn’t be a problem. That being said, I met Anna Kendrick on Monday and have been reading her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody, ever since, and I love her more than ever.

The event itself was at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  They are apparently famous for their author events and were very efficient at getting everyone in and out in a timely manner.  That being said, I wanted to talk to her more.  Don’t get me wrong: she was absolutely funny and charming and she TOLD ME I LOOKED AMAZING AND HUGGED ME AND OH MY GOD GUYS I COULDN’T TAKE IT, but I didn’t get to ask her about Trolls like I wanted to or tell her I’d driven from L.A. or let her know that my lipstick color was called Lady Balls, which I figured she’d appreciate.  I left still feeling like I had a 2D idea of her.

Reading her book filled that gap.  She writes like she talks, and each story is told in a conversational style that makes you feel connected to her as the story-teller.  At one point, she even says that “we’re friends.”  Even though that’s not quite accurate, she manages to speak openly and honestly in a way that shows off her humanity.

There are a lot of “actress finds her way through Hollywood” stories, but it also contains several “young woman finds her way” stories and advice for girls about dating and sex.  She shows some true feminism and calls out some sexist issues with society from a personal level, like the guys who want to have sex with her until she shows she’s “too enthusiastic” about it.

All in all, the book just makes her seem more like a person I want to hang out with and feels like you’re catching up with a friend who happens to be living the “Hollywood life.”  The stories are funny and interesting and she bares her soul enough to ensure her reader is emotionally invested.

If you liked Twilight or Into the Woods, I recommend reading it.  If you want to be an actor and are curious how one moves to L.A. and gets into show business, I recommend reading it.  If you are a girl/young woman who doesn’t know how to be yourself in a world constantly telling you 5000 different people you should be, I recommend reading it.  She has good advice in spots.  In the places she doesn’t, well…she can commiserate enough that you don’t feel quite so alone in your circumstance.  And she’ll make you laugh enough to make you feel better about all of it.

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Fantastic Mistakes

My goal for this trip was to read and blog about only the books I brought with me from Belmont.  I was going to save my new acquisitions until I got home and made a Road Trip Book Haul post.  But between marathon driving sessions and election anxiety, I haven’t made much progress on The Bell Jar.  Also, I already missed a Patron post this week and didn’t want to do it again so I chose to break the rule and read something I bought in L.A.

And I have to say, one more time, that I am so SO grateful for the magic of books, for the fact that the right one always seems to find me exactly when I need it.  It took me fifteen minutes to read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.  I cannot definitively say those 15 minutes changed my life, but they certainly changed my outlook on today.

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to explain the effect it’s had on me, but instead I’m just going to give you a link so you can read it (or watch it if you prefer).  And I’m going to give you my list of what I want to do, like the one Gaiman says he made at 15.

  • Write a book for 20-somethings with a character I can identify with.
  • Write a travel memoir.
  • Write a Disney princess movie.
  • Write a progressive children’s novel.
  • Write an album’s worth of songs and record them or get someone else to.
  • Perfect the Robin Hood book.

I’m sure there will be more, but this seems like plenty to get started with.

There is nothing I can do anymore that will change who our next president is…but there is something I can do that will make me feel better about it and, depending on how it goes, may make someone else feel a little better too.

So if you will excuse me, I’ve got art to make.  And, in the process, hopefully a few fantastic mistakes.

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I’m Going to Chicago and I’m Going to Take…Book Club Thursday Edition.

I was feeling ambitious last Thursday when I finished You Are Here.  I meant to finish The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck as another way of preparing for my trip.  But all the physical preparations have kept me busy, so no reading has gotten done.

Again, this is ambitious, but I also plan to read on my trip.  If all goes well, there will be no interruption in Book Club Thursday posts.  And while I plan to go to bookstores along the way,

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Reportedly inspired Looking for Alaska.

Howl by Allen Ginsberg.  Because who can go on a life-changing road trip without poetry?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  A book about traveling alone…although, a little more rustic than my adventure.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  This book has been recommended to me repeatedly.  I think it’s finally time to try it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  I’ve always wanted to read this.  I imagine it’s going to become very important to me.  I just haven’t felt ready before.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  Not going to lie: I literally picked this one because it has “travels” in the name.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  I started this book on our trip to Cherokee.  I was waiting to be in the right mindset, didn’t finish, and haven’t been back in that mental place sense.  If I don’t get there on this trip, I might never do it.

And, of course, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  This is the book that famously gave Route 66 its nickname as “The Mother Road.”

For comfort, I’m going to take Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.

As far as guide books go, I’m taking Lonely Planet’s book on Route 66 Road Trips, Tom Snyder’s Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion, and a “Quick Reference Encyclopedia” by Drew Knowles that I bought at Disneyland.

What’s the most transformative book you’ve ever read?

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In Which Flash Was More Interesting Than We Are Pirates

My favorite line in To Kill a Mockingbird – the only one I remember, in fact – referred to Scout’s reading.  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  I remember, the first time I read those words, that my breath caught in my throat.  Nothing had ever made as much sense to me as those two sentences.  It feels strange saying, “I love to read.”  “I love books” is more accurate.

And I do.  I love everything about books from the weight in my hands to the flutter of the pages to the smell of the ink.  But do you know what else I love?

A really good TV show…and maybe a dozen movies.

Groucho Marx may have believed the only thing television was good for was to encourage him to read, but I don’t.  Television is just another medium through which we can share stories with each other.

Yes, there are TV shows that are mind-numbing, bordering on brainwashing, but there are also uplifting ones.  Make fun of me if you want, but Liv and Maddie and Kim Possible taught me more about “girl power” than any book I’ve ever read.  I’ve seen shows that make me question the nature of good and evil, the power of destiny, and my own ability to be a friend.  And besides that, I’ve seen some shows that are just damn good stories, stories that inspire me creatively and keep me hooked throughout.  These shows have taught me how to develop characters in my writing and the different ways one can tie a story together.

This week, I have spent about 14 hours watching The Flash, a show that fits both of those categories.  You may argue that time could have been better spent doing other things or, yes, reading.  But I’m writing a story that I’m excited about and thinking more complexly than I have in a while.  When a story does that to you, no matter which medium it’s told through, it’s worth the time you take to consume it.

But hey: today is Book Club Thursday, so let’s talk books.  Below is a list of some books on my shelf.  The time I spent reading these particular books would have been better spent with a better story – even a television one.  Because, yes, there are thoughtless, mind-numbing books out there too.

  • Down and Out in Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
  • Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Shopgirl by Steve Martin

And these are just the books I hated as I was reading them.  Don’t get me started on the books I read and, in looking back, realized were rotting my brain in very specific ways (coughTwilightcough).

Obviously, you may disagree with which books I put on this list, but the point is that we all have a list.  Bad stories come in all forms,  as do good ones.  If you think all TV does is rot your brain, you’re probably watching the wrong shows.

Don’t worry.  I’ve got some recommendations for you.

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